Alumni Connect – Alumni Sharing Forum Series
Perspectives on Special Education • Alumna
Lam Siu Ling, Cecilia

Located among residential blocks on the quiet backstreet in North Point downtown, Po Leung Kuk Yu Lee Mo Fan Memorial School is a thirteen-class school for six to eighteen-year-olds with moderate intellectual disability.  Another campus feature is its outdoor muscle-training field and playground, which enjoys an unrivalled position overlooking the Victoria Harbour and the Hunghom Promenade, the envy of local people.  To let students practise running for fifteen minutes in such an environment will definitely help with energy release and emotion management.

Their former principal - Alumna Lam Siu Ling, Cecilia - worked for more than twenty years in the school before retirement.  She pointed out that the school did make good use of the convenient location and make arrangements for students to go into the community on a weekly schedule, to interact with the neighbourhood.  Those were activities that needed a lot of manpower.   Apart from teachers and co-workers, parents were invited to involve themselves as volunteers and were asked to take care of another child rather than their own.  In this manner, they learnt from the experience of taking care of other students: learning from the student in their care, accepting the child's individuality, allowing themselves to relax and minimizing the feeling of helplessness.  The goal of letting students integrate with the community could only be achieved with the collaboration of the family, the school, the community and the society as a whole.

Having taught at the HKIEd as a Guest Lecturer for many years, Alumna Lam said quality teaching and holistic education, in her belief, worked like this: in addition to learning regular skills and stabilizing emotions and behaviors, the everyday practice of what was learnt in school was equally significant.  She did not want students to become aware of only arithmetic and not knowing how to fasten shoelaces, as was common among local children.  She would like to see them learn self-control and basic courtesy, and therefore, learning to develop self-respect and holding respect for others would be the focus of education: such as helping to set the table before dinner at home, how to use their money and get the correct change, giving up a seat to the elderly, etc.  Such was knowledge learnt in the classroom with the truth practised in real life.  Owing to lack of government resources, the school had to find resources for the employment of more than five speech therapists, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.  Through their assessment to identify individual learning progress coupled with meeting needs at home, spoken language, non-verbal communication, body coordination, sports, arts, music, games and the latest development in the form of treatment models altogether have helped students learn to communicate, recognize new things and equip themselves for life.

Alumna Lam pointed out that as they were engaged in a career that calls for the cause of conscience, professional training in various forms for school teachers and co-workers should not be overlooked: exchange of ideas with other professionals, school visits, online learning for the latest information, participating in training classes, etc.   These endeavours would help motivate teachers to carry on with their hard work because it was never easy for a teacher in the classroom to manage the changing moods of students and at the same time attend to their varying learning needs.  To enhance teachers’ and co-workers’ understanding of a child's language development, the school carried out a three-year communication scheme in 2005.  Apart from teachers, co-workers in different roles such as therapists, nurse, social worker and janitors, etc. participated through classes, tutorials, homework and assessment to learn proper communication with students.  After this, experienced teachers would provide newcomers to the school with similar training.

In terms of placement, Alumna Lam advocated the idea that students be divided into four groups: lower primary, upper primary, junior high and senior high school.  When a certain number of students were gathered, they would be further divided into classes at three levels according to individual ability and learning needs.  Class structure would work like this: the same class of students would be taught by the same teacher for three years as a class teacher, who would also be responsible for leading the deputy class teacher and assistant teachers.  This would ask for greater "accountability" of the team.  She believed that in this manner the teachers would become familiar with the differences in the individual ability of students and their learning pace, confidence in teaching would then be gradually nurtured over time, and this also would allow the building up of relationships with parents over a more reasonable period of time.  This could provide the environment, space and motivation necessary to help teachers continue in reflection, adaptation and teaching.  They were expected to understand not only the children’s needs but also the thoughts of ​​their parents.  It was hoped that the teachers would try to turn every challenge into an opportunity and develop a teaching attitude with this motto in mind "Aim for what is the best teaching method, and look for even better ones as always."

After retirement, Alumna Lam returned to educational training.  Recently, as a teaching supervisor for teacher trainees, she visited other schools and took delight in seeing the students’ language and teaching standard, as well as school establishment in terms of teaching, classroom and personnel matters.  She was happy to find the concepts behind such practices as similar to those practiced in Yu Lee Mo Fan Memorial School.  She firmly believed that these good practices would be able to promote mutual understanding among students with intellectual disability, parents and teachers.  These would also be able to fortify graduates’ determination, which would be a great help on their career endurance and development.  She believed that the current practices were the good results of more than twenty years of exchanges, mutual learning and impact between schools, for which she was so pleased.

Alumna Cecilia Lam hoped that inclusive education could be reassessed in order to allow flexible arrangements for individuality. When students with mild intellectual disability was not able to integrate into a mainstream school due to the pace of curriculum or other reasons, they should not be "put on a boat to go down the river to a point of no return", as that might create all kinds of subsequent problems. As for promoting employment opportunities for people with intellectual disability, Alumna Lam looked forward to the day when the government would establish appropriate policy and take the lead in an exemplary role within the government sector.

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